If you read this entire article, it will take you 10 minutes and 13 seconds.
But guess what. It took me 21 times that long to write it.
When you stop and think about it, really good long form content takes a lot of time to produce.
There aren’t many people who can plop in their chair, bust out a 2,000-word article in an hour, and get on with their day.
For most of us, it takes a solid two or three hours to create a piece of good content that hits the 2,000-word mark.
So let me ask you a question. Is it worth it?
I’m being totally serious here because you might just be wasting your time. Have you thought about that?
Could it be that your 2,000-word articles aren’t even worth the time and effort that you put into them?
That’s kind of a depressing thought, I know. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to answer the question head on. No pulling back. No hesitation.
Is longer really better? Is it worth it? Are you wasting your time?
Then, I’m going to give you a surefire formula for not wasting your time when you write articles — a powerful method that will make your articles rank on top.
This article isn’t for the faint of heart. It wasn’t easy to write, and it might not be easy to read.
But if you’re ready to stop wasting time, start ranking high, and move your content marketing method to the next level, read on.
Learn how I generated 195,013 visitors a month by writing focused, comprehensive content.
How long does it take to write a long form article?
Let’s do some calculations.
Let’s say you write an article that is is 2,300 words long. That’s the average length of my articles.
The average typing speed is 40 words per minute.
If you type without stopping, you’ll be wrapping up the article in just under an hour — 57.5 minutes to be exact.
But obviously it doesn’t work like that.
You’re not writing a bunch of words! You’re writing a well-researched article!
According to Wordstopages.com, 2,300 words comes out to about 5 pages.
A well-researched, five-page article requires exponentially more time.
And since the average worker is only productive for three hours a day, producing an article like that could take all day Monday, Tuesday, and part of Wednesday!
In my experience, there are some great writers out there who can produce content in way less time.
Their “secret” is using a combination of raw skill, intense focus, and a familiarity with the subject matter.
Here’s the question: How long does it take you to write an in-depth article (1,500+ words)?
The people who responded to the thread are probably somewhat experienced with writing and marketing.
I went through the responses and boiled them down to just the numbers, summarized below.
Keep in mind that without all the discussion and context within people’s answers, these numbers can easily be misunderstood.
There are so many variables (native language, distractions, subject matter, research level, knowledge level, etc.) that looking at raw numbers can paint a false story.
However, it does help to look broadly at how long it takes people to create long form (1,500 words) content. (When a respondent says “days” in their reply, I calculate a day as 8 hours.)
Here are twenty-nine individual answers to the question, “How long does it take to write 1,500 words?”
- 4-8 hours
- 2-3 hours
- 7-9 hours
- 11-12 hours
- 1.5-47.5 hours
- 16 hours
- 2-3 hours
- 2 hours
- 4 hours
- 3 hours
- 2 hours
- 2 hours
- 4-40 hours
- 7-8 hours
- 28-56 hours
- 6-12 hours
- 20 hours
- 8 hours
- 2 hours
- 2 hours
- 12 hours
- 3-5 hours
- 4-5 hours
- 2-8 hours
- 2-3 hours
- 3 hours
- 6-8 hours
- 8-12 hours
- 2 hours
Keep in mind that most of these numbers include the whole process — research, writing, editing, posting, etc.
For some of these, the research phase is the most time-consuming. In order to write a great article on a deep topic, you have to really master that topic.
Doing so requires a lot of research. For some of the writers in the discussion, that phase takes them days.
- The average writing time (calculated by maximum time) is 10 hours.
- The average writing time (calculated by minimum time) 7.6 hours.
Some people are a lot faster, obviously. But some — including some of the most respected professionals in the field — are slower.
There is an interesting summary of responses at AuthorityMarketing.com.
Kevan Lee at Buffer can bust out a long form article in 2 hours and 58 minutes. Here are some of his times:
A blogger like Jon Morrow takes two hours just to write his headline! One of his best articles took him over 50 hours to write!
Brian Dean spends 20 hours on a post. He suggests that you shouldn’t be trying to spend less time writing your articles, but more.
Seth Godin, marketing god that he is, writes his articles in 15 minutes (they’re really short). But research? That takes him 16 hours!
So how do you know if you’re wasting your time? Maybe it takes you 10 hours to write a 1,500-word article. Maybe it takes you two hours. Maybe it takes you 100 hours.
The most important question is not how long does it take?
The real question is, are you spending your time wisely?
If you write really long articles, are you wasting your time?
Answer: You might be.
I’ll explain why in a minute.
But obviously, it depends.
- No two articles are the same.
- No two writers are the same.
In order to figure out whether you’re wasting your time or not, you need to understand the goal of your article.
What is the goal?
- At a high level, you want to make money.
- At a more realistic level, you probably want to get a lot of the right kind of traffic.
- At an even more detailed level, you want high rankings for relevant keywords.
Asking how long it takes to write an article is a good question, of course, but we also have to understand the goal.
If you are spinning out 2,000 words without the right focus, you are wasting your time!
You’ve probably heard people like me explain how important it is to write long form content.
In response, you may write really long articles, expecting that’s all it takes to get high rankings.
But it doesn’t work that way.
Let me explain.
Google doesn’t care about word count. They care about three other things.
Let me pull back the curtain on a surprising truth about Google’s algorithm, search results, and content length.
Data does not prove that a large word count produces higher rankings.
Instead, we can show that large word count is correlated with higher rankings.
That’s why I’ve written, taught, explained, and championed long form content.
You’ve probably seen this data before, right?
Longer content has more backlinks.
Longer content has more social shares.
Longer content has more organic traffic.
Longer content has a higher social engagement (the Y axis below shows engagement metrics):
And — this is the kicker — longer content typically has higher SERP ranking:
Most SEOs take this information and think, “Oh! I need to write more!”
So, like the discussion above, they work hard (and long) to write more content.
This is where I caution you against wasting your time.
You can’t expect to simply write more content and get all the good stuff — higher ranking, more backlinks, increased social sharing, and enhanced social engagement.
Instead, you need to write better content.
“Better” content is typically longer, yes.
But it’s more than just length. In fact, the real reason for high-ranking content isn’t the length of the content at all.
For example, let’s take a look at the top-ranked organic results for “content marketing.”
The top result when I searched this morning was an article titled “What Is Content Marketing?” on the Content Marketing Institute blog.
The entire page, including every footer text and menu item, has only 1,120 words.
The article itself has only 647 words!
The second organic result is Twitter.
The third organic result is the main page for the Content Marketing Institute. It has less than 500 words of content and most of it is links to articles.
This is a single example for a major search term. According to Ahrefs, “content marketing” has a keyword difficulty level of 83.
This means that you’ll need at least 427 solid backlinks to have a chance to rank on the first page of Google.
There is an enormous amount of volume and engagement for this search term.
And the top-ranked results have word counts of less than 1,500!
What about a longtail keyword, like “B2B content marketing strategy.”
What do the results look like? Here’s the data from Ahrefs:
For a longtail informational query like “B2B content marketing strategy,” we would expect to get information-rich, in-depth articles.
True to form, Google delivers such results.
Here is the first organic result:
The article clocks in at 1,262 words.
This is a couple hundred words shy of the 1,500 benchmark, and more than 1,000 words shy of the 2,000+ that I generally recommend.
What’s the second organic result?
It’s an offer to download a PDF from Velocity Partners.
And…get this…the “article” (if you can call it that) is only 292 words!
That’s not a lot of content!
So what’s going on? Am I simply cherry-picking examples to push my agenda?
No. In fact, I selected “content marketing” keywords in order to surface results from the content marketing community — writers and content creators who believe that longer is better.
But, apparently, Google is delivering top-ranked results that do not have super long articles.
Now, for every short article that I find in the top results, I could probably find a long form article, too.
The point is this: Just because you write long content doesn’t mean you’ll rank higher.
I’ll state my point again — the real reason that content ranks high has little to do with the length.
Okay, well if not length, then what is it?
Every piece of content that you write has to have these three characteristics.
Content length isn’t the deciding factor.
As important as it is, there are other factors intrinsic to content that have more significance.
What kind of factors do influence high-ranking content?
Obviously, this is the entire question that SEO and content marketing are trying to answer.
And there are three clear answers based on data.
1. The content should be deep.
First, the content needs to be deep.
What do I mean by “deep?”
I’ll explain, but first, let me show you why depth matters because that will help us understand what “deep” looks like in a real-world example.
As I tackled this question, I performed some in-depth analysis using MarketMuse.
As an example of the analysis that I did, I’ll show you my investigation of the top-ranked article from CMI.
As a refresher, this is the article that ranks number one organically for the query “B2B content marketing strategy.”
It’s not super long. It clocks in at around 1,200 words.
My question is why does it rank so well?!
First, I open up MarketMuse.
Then, I enter the URL for the article.
Second, I add the keyword as the “focus topic.”
I click “Fetch” (the first button) to pull in the content of the article.
Then, I click “analyze.”
MarketMuse then analyzes the content by scoring it in three categories:
- Content Depth Score
- Average Content Score Target
- Best Content Score Target
The scores are comparative, meaning that MarketMuse also processes data from the aggregate of the top twenty organic search results for the selected focus topic.
What’s interesting about this data is that the top twenty organic results are all over the board in terms of content length.
Since the image above is small, here is the word count for the top twenty results for “B2B content marketing strategy.”
Notice that only two of these results exceed my recommended 2,000-word target. One of the results has only 80 words!
The longest article is a whopping 10k+ words, but it barely makes it onto page 1!
What makes this article such a top-ranked result?
For one, it has solid depth.
For MarketMuse, depth is the answer to the question, “How well does this content cover the focus topic?”
Apparently, it does very well.
The scoring process involves taking the article and seeing how many times it mentions other relevant terms.
These other terms have a “relevancy score.” The score weighs how important the terms are, relative to the focus topic.
Since the focus topic is “B2B content marketing strategy,” then the relevancy score of that phrase is 100.
Other relevant terms for this focus topic are social media, target audience, marketers, etc.
The top-ranked content is deep because it contains a large number of relevant terms.
So, what does it mean to have deep content?
It means that the content covers as many relevant topics as possible.
If you are writing about “hamster food,” then you want to create content that discusses types of hamsters and other relevant hamster topics.
In many cases, deep content will by necessity be long. In order to treat as many relevant topics as possible, you have to write more words.
2. The content should have comprehensive coverage.
Second, really good content that ranks high will have comprehensive coverage.
Comprehensiveness refers to the variety of related topics that the article discusses. So, for example, while deep content strives for plentiful mentions of relevant topics, comprehensive content is targeting more mentions of related topics.
We analyzed this by comparing one piece of content that scored extremely high in the “content score” category.
We then compared the two to see what other topics could be included in a discussion to make it more comprehensive.
In this case, the higher-scoring content mentioned topics such as the following:
- Inbound marketing
- Marketing team
- Marketing tactic
- Digital marketing
- Brand awareness
The original article that we analyzed didn’t mention any of those topics.
Including the term “marketing tactic,” as just one example, could make the content more comprehensive, which could contribute to a higher ranking.
Think for a moment, though. How much content do you need to write in order for your article to be considered highly comprehensive?
Sure, it depends on your niche. But in this case, the most comprehensive article was also the longest — over 10k words!
Content doesn’t need to be super long to rank well. There are so many factors that contribute to ranking, and word count is not one of them.
But comprehensiveness is one of them, at least according to Hummingbird algorithm research.
And sometimes, in order to be comprehensive, you have to have a lot of words.
3. The content should be focused on the topic (keyword) you want to rank for.
Keyword stuffing is a thing of the past.
But honing in on a single topic and mentioning it repeatedly is a thing of today.
When you analyze the top result for a given keyword, you’ll notice that the selected keyword appears multiple times and in multiple ways within the content.
In the article we’ve been using as an example, the keyword is right in the title.
Variations of the keyword are distributed throughout the article and comments:
- B2B = 3x
- Content = 110x
- Market* = 61x
- Strategy* = 28
- Content Marketing = 50
- Business = 9
When I run an analysis of keyword density, here’s what I see for single keyword frequency.
The top three words are 1) content 2) marketing, and 3) strategy.
I also analyzed the article for 2-word keyword density:
Notice again how “content marketing,” and “marketing strategy” are the top two.
Finally, look at the article’s 3-word keyword density ratings:
It’s no surprise that “content marketing strategy” has the highest frequency, with nine occurrences.
Is that keyword stuffing? Is 4% density rate too much?
I don’t know, but I do know that this article has the number one organic result for “B2B content marketing strategy.”
Maybe keyword stuffing is dead and keyword density ratios are overrated in today’s Hummingbird era. But maybe there’s something to be said for frequent and varied usage of the focus topic!
In summary, there is no law that says your content must be a certain length in order to rank higher.
A lot of content marketers spend a plenty of time creating content. And that’s good!
But is length the only thing we should be targeting when we create this content?
No. The data suggests that your content needs to have three characteristics:
- The content should be deep.
- The content should have comprehensive coverage.
- The content should be focused on the topic (keyword) you want to rank for.
When you create content with those three characteristics, you might find yourself writing a 4,000-word article. Or it might be 1,000.
Either way, it’s going to be good.
And that’s what Google likes.
What is your experience in creating long form content and the ranking level of that content? How long does it take you to write solid long form content?